Nailing Jell-o to the wall: Why women don’t report sexual assault
That’s right. Women do not report sexual assault. And we’re flooded with stories explaining why, again and again and again.
#WhyIDidntReport isn’t a new hashtag, but it seems to endure — because the situation doesn’t change. And women are NOT reporting. Because… why would they?
The first time I was harassed and tried to report it, I was 21. I was living in Morocco, working on women’s rights — or trying to. Most of the time I was dodging the special attentions of a colleague who liked to pass by my office several times a day and say “You do know you’re beautiful, yes?”
I remember how he made every effort to touch me, long arms reaching out to grab whatever part of me was closest — caressing my shoulders when I was at my desk with my back to the door, touching my thigh as we sat next to each other in a meeting. His hands, I thought, were like the metal arm of the claw machines at amusement parks. And he was everywhere, there was no avoiding him.
“You are beautiful — even if you do not smile very much,” he would say.
One day I finally decided to report him. I was young, naive, and wasn’t sure of the proper procedures or what might come of it, but I had already endured many months of his tentacle-like behavior and I could not take one more minute.
I went to the director to complain. It might have been 27 years ago, but I’ll never forget the dialogue.
“There’s something making me uncomfortable,” I fumbled, while trying to explain that I was harassed on the streets, near my home, and, on top of it all, in the office.
“Oh Lina!” he responded, “but you’re Arab, you should understand how Moroccan men are!”
My face went blank. He continued.
“You see, this is your first experience in The Field…”
Somehow, The Field is a place where all actions are excusable. And where my plea for a safe workplace was a lost cause.
“Ah, Lina. You’re young yet. This is all part of being a woman working abroad.”
“But surely I don’t have to — ”
“What do you want me to do, Lina?” Before I could answer, he continued. “Shall I confront him?!” He chuckled. Was his response funny?
I wish I could say that I was surprised in that moment. It was a response I could have anticipated. Perhaps I had been naïve in hoping for an ally. And some concrete action.
“OK, Lina. So let’s say I confront him. No man would admit to it!”
“It would be…” he paused for a second, as if searching for the right thing to say. “It would be like nailing Jell-o to the wall.”
Nailing Jell-o to the wall. I had never heard that expression before, but I’ve never forgotten it.
This isn’t just Morocco, isn’t just my office, isn’t just one “bad guy”, but rather everyone, everywhere, all the time, from the obvious to the hidden — even the “nice guy”. Even that guy can have a creep living inside.
And why don’t we report? Well, that would be like nailing Jell-o to the wall.
I took this to the TikTokers, with a short rant about why women don’t report.
Here’s what’s breaking my heart today. It’s that hashtag Why I Didn’t Report that talks about why women did not report when they were sexually assaulted. They didn’t go to security or the police. They didn’t ask for help, didn’t tell anybody. Do you know why? Because they’d be blamed. Because they’d be shamed. Because they’d be victimized. Because they’d be told it was their fault. Because they’d be asked: Why were you there? What were you doing? What were you wearing? Why were you drinking? What about your sexual history?
Women so seldom get access to justice and security and satisfaction. Men get away with it all the time. So why didn’t you report?! Why didn’t I report?! Why didn’t anyone report!? Of course not. Not in this current climate that is so unjust to women. You can’t blame them for not reporting. Take a look at those comments. And it will break your heart as well.
And, in true TikTok fashion, the comments came in all over again. Comments like “RIGHT” and “Exactly” and “That’s so much truer today.”
They spoke about having to relive trauma. One person said, “Once that trauma is over, then you have to relive it again and be degraded every time you tell them. That “second crime” haunts me as much as the assaults.” Another added, “I did report my second assault at the age of 21. It was the most humiliating experience I’ve ever gone through.”
A common refrain was the unacceptable and insignificant consequences for the perpetrator. “Totally pointless,” said one comment, “because nothing will happen to the man, only the woman,” said another. Sometimes the perpetrator knows the police, or is able to bribe them. Yes, this actually happens.
One person reminded us that if the perpetrator is under the age of 18, there would be no consequences, “the verdict would be confidential, and the record would be expunged.”
One comment expressed the views of many who believe that “this poor young man’s life” will be ruined, while she will “live with the trauma for the rest of her life.” Indeed, perpetrators get very light sentences — if any. And even less if they happen to be white. There’s an undeniable racial element here as well. The lack of justice in the case of the Stanford rapist-who-also-swims is an egregious example.
And even when we do report, what happens? Usually nothing.
“I did report my abuser, my grandfather, when I was 8. He had been a serial rapist and pedophile and had abused almost every woman and child in our family since the mid 50s. No one stood up with me and backed me up. They all lied for him… In the years since, dozens of people… have come forward and confirmed everything I said. So he made it to 66 before he was “caught.” He didn’t have any legal ramifications…”
And the statistics back this up. In the US, for every 1000 rapes, 995 perpetrators will go unpunished. Rape Crisis UK reported that only 1 in 100 rapes recorded by the police resulted in a charge that same year. The organization also highlighted that 5 in 6 women who are raped do not report. And it’s not just women. Four in 5 men do not report either, citing embarrassment, humiliation, and lack of trust in the police.
In short, justice systems are failing us. Because, in the words of one TikToker, “the ‘justice system’ isn’t just, so what’s the point?”
Another one added, “This breaks my heart.” Yes, and mine too. “There’s so many women who are hurt and never get justice.”
And, we are blamed for not taking action. One comment put it well: “My favorite is “Why didn’t you fight back?” when we women are taught from a young age to not fight back so that we survive.”
I was groped by a 14-year old boy when I was in my 20s — and even then I could not fight back as he was already bigger and stronger than me.
Predictably, the element of shame came up because, shockingly, we still shame and blame the woman.
“A trusted adult told me not to say anything because “my parents will never look at me the same.” Another person said, “I remember not telling anyone until I was 50. I was 8. Teach your kids to trust you.”
Another reason was disbelief and denial, “or because the issue would be shoved under the rug, dismissed or the victim shamed to SHUT HER UP.” Another added, “I asked for help to get a manager to accept rejection and quit trying to woo me. They rallied as if I filed a fake sexual assault claim. I eventually resigned.”
And another: “It took me 8 years to be heard… No one cared.”
Why don’t we report?! One person summed it up: “Because I didn’t want to be told it was my fault.”
Along with all the powerful comments, I also got the inevitable counter. It was just a matter of time before some jerk piped in.
“People like you are evil,” he wrote. “You are just propagating evil under the cover of rape. You probably making up sexual encounter just for this evil spread.”
If fighting against sexual assault is evil, then yes, that’s me.
Anyway, no matter how many women do report, and how many do experience sexual assault, there will always be one guy who claims it’s fake. False reports are significantly overestimated, yet receive a huge amount of media attention. Studies reveal false reports are “consistently very low” with rates ranging from 2% to 10%.
So yes false reporting of sexual assault does occur, as with any crime, but it is incredibly rare. And anyway, what’s the satisfaction, really? Perpetrators hardly ever face justice, they are seldom given strong sentences, and they continue with their lives — perhaps even gaining notoriety and celebrity status. Meanwhile, women are ostracized and blamed and shamed and shunned. And slammed on social media.
Ultimately, the real rates of sexual assault far outnumber the reported rates. This happens far more frequently than we know. To all of us.
Accurate statistics are incredibly difficult to get — because women don’t report. According to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds. Yet, rates of reporting do not reflect this.
A study found 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. The NSVRC — National Sexual Violence Resource Center — found that 40% of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police in 2017, but only 25% were reported in 2018.
Rape is the most underreported crime. In the US, it is estimated that only 19% of rapes, completed or attempted, are reported annually. Globally, there are vast discrepancies between laws, definitions, implementation, and reporting mechanisms.
Even though reporting services are abysmal, societal responses are poor, and many women feel a certain degree of hopelessness, one commented, “It’s time we take over and change things.”
Another added that “there should be advocates that stand by victims to help fight with them, like taking your big sister with you.”
“Exactly,” one person said. “Never underestimate the power of women.”